First, let's teach your dog the value of the click. Begin that lesson by once again hand-feeding all your dog's meals over the next four days. In general, I find that hand-feeding is a good exercise to reintroduce whenever my dogs (or other dogs that I am boarding and training) are learning a new, difficult skill, or when I sense that they are beginning to lose focus.
1. CLICK AND HAND-FEED Sit on a chair or, if it's easier, on the floor and have your dog sit in front of you. With her food bowl in your lap or at your side, hold the clicker where your dog can't focus on it. Be silent and keep other sounds to a minimum. As soon as you click, hand-feed a bite of food. When your dog finishes the bite of food, pause for a moment, make sure you have your dog's focus on you or on her food, and then click again. Let your dog see you reach immediately into the bowl for her next handful. Pause once more before clicking again. Repeat these steps about five times to help your dog begin to make the connection between the click and the food. Most dogs pick this up fairly fast and enjoy this new game.
2. PAUSE BEFORE FEEDING This time, pause a second longer for the click; continue to feed immediately after the click. On each of the next five handfuls, lengthen the intervening pause by one additional second. Then, on the next five handfuls, randomize the length of pauses between clicks from one to the 10 seconds. Keep giving the food immediately after the click. Remember to stay silent.
3. KEEP HER FOCUS Your dog's happy, animated body language will let you know she is getting the connection between the click and the food. Once she figures that out, try adding a slight delay after the click before giving her each handful of food. Watch your dog to see if she is looking at the food after the click; this means she understands that a treat will follow each sound of the clicker. It also means she is having fun learning what, to her, is another game.
For subsequent meals, go through Step One more quickly, saving more of the meal for Steps Two and Three. Within a few days, your dog should be making a clear connection between the click and the food. Remember to hand-feed her at different locations to help generalize the connection between the click and the treat.
Excerpted from Training the Best Dog Ever by Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz and Larry Kay